Keeping the lawyers busy in 2011 and 2012

KEEPING THE LAWYERS BUSY IN 2011 AND 2012…. Last week, Taegan Goddard connected with former President Bill Clinton, who said a potential campaign issue is the prospect of congressional witch hunts launched by a possible Republican majority.

If the GOP takes the House, Clinton predicted, Republicans would pursue “two years of unrelenting investigations.” This realization, the former president added, “might shake up all these apathetic Democrats and get them to vote again.”

I’m not sure if that’s true — does the typical voter really understand the process that well? — but let there be no doubt about the likelihood of these pointless investigations.

House Minority Leader John Boehner threw his full support behind Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) plan to bombard the Obama administration with subpoenas if Republicans take back the House in November.

“I think Congress has an appropriate role under the Constitution to provide oversight of the executive branch. And I would pledge that it’s going to happen,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Committee, has said he’ll double the size of his staff if he becomes chairman of the committee next year. He called for an investigation of the Obama administration earlier this year for offering Rep. Joe Sestak an unpaid job if he would drop out of the Democratic primary, and he has promised to investigate the White House in search of similar controversies.

Keep in mind, when President Obama took office, there were a wide variety of calls for him to investigate Bush-era wrongdoing, holding the previous administration responsible for possible crimes. Republicans implored the Obama White House to instead ignore the past, and focus solely on policies affecting the president and the future. With all the country is facing, the argument went, this is not time to look backwards.

Though it proved deeply controversial with many of his supporters, the president agreed and left Bush-era scandals, abuses, and crimes to the verdict of history.

Two years later, the same Republicans who demanded that Democrats look forward, not backward, may very well take a congressional majority and spend most, if not all, of their time doing the exact opposite — investigating manufactured controversies from before, gutting health care legislation that passed before, fighting for tax cuts that didn’t work before, etc.

Obama’s reward for moving past Bush’s controversies will be the polar opposite.

As for the severity, I still don’t think the political fully appreciates how ugly this would be. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said over the summer that endless investigations should be her party’s principal focus. “I think that all we should do is issue subpoenas and have one hearing after another, and expose all the nonsense that has gone on,” she said in July.

To be sure, it was farcical on the Hill in the mid- to late-’90s. Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana and his House committee on administrative oversight launched pointless investigations into every wild-eyed Clinton-related accusation unhinged activists could manufacture.

And I mean “every” quite literally. In one instance, Burton held hearings — for 10 days — on the Clintons’ Christmas card list. In another, Burton fired a bullet into a “head-like object” — reportedly a melon — in his backyard to test his conspiracy theories about Vince Foster. Over the last six years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, Burton’s committee unilaterally issued 1,052 subpoenas — that’s not a typo — to investigate baseless allegations of misconduct. That translates to an average of a politically-inspired subpoena every other day for six consecutive years, including weekends, holidays, and congressional recesses.

Issa wants to make Burton look like a tepid wallflower.

As Paul Krugman noted recently, “[W]e’ll be having hearings over accusations of corruption on the part of Michelle Obama’s hairdresser, janitors at the Treasury, and Larry Summers’s doctor’s dog.”